A Precious Narrative By Cedar Sanderson

A Precious Narrative

By Cedar Sanderson


Storytelling is woven into human DNA. Even the discovery of DNA’s shape is enrobed in a thrilling tale of deceit and betrayal – with a sexist twist, of course. We tell our stories every single day. Some of us are very clearly aware of the delineations between fact and fantasy, and make our living spinning narratives others enjoy reading for the fun of it. Other people lose the boundaries between fiction and their own desires, and that’s where it starts to get, for lack of a better word, problematic.

I would argue that in order to exist in this world full of contradictions, some people must create an insulting narrative to keep them from confronting the harsh realities that surround them. Without that precious blanket (and you may also envision a thumb firmly inserted for sucking on) they might have to face truths they cannot accept. I’ve seen this time and time again. Heaven help you if you dent their story, because they will lash out in irrational anger. It really doesn’t matter if you can prove they are wrong and you’re in the right. That’s not what they feel is right.

Thus, the idea becomes that reality is an amorphous thing, moldable by the individual human as they drift through life, bumping into things and adding buffers at those sore spots. How did we get here, you might ask, and I’ll be asking it right along with you. Mark Gover of Michigan State University calls it an ‘intellectual cul-de-sac’ which seems very apt when we consider the dead-end results of basing ‘truth’ solely on one’s own desires. He states: “Similarly, the quest for an absolute ground of narrative, either as a structure embedded in the mind or as a stylized cultural tradition, is ultimately a crazy-making pursuit.”

We need, then, some kind of lodestone outside our selves to ground our reality. Observation, data, and analysis are crucial to keeping our unconscious daily narrative from becoming insanely out of touch with the world as-it-is, rather than the world as-we-desire-it-to-be. Even science is not immune to the creation of a narrative, when it ceases to question some particular that has become established as tradition. Aside from the current position that climate change is settled science, we can see the failings of science in the case of fat intake – demonized in the 1960s, through research that was funded by the sugar industry (JAMA, Nov. 2016) – and in shaky peer-reviewed papers that, well, sometimes are obviously not reviewed at all (there have been entire papers consisting of profanity, or thinly-veiled Star Wars references).

But still, science is the best solution we have to ensure that we are grounded and sane in the face of the narratives that come rushing at us daily with their contradictory claims. I know that I often say ‘data is not anecdote’ but it is difficult to deny the attraction of knowing that something works for/has happened to you, or even to someone you know well and trust. This is, after all, how word-of-mouth marketing works. The trust circle we surround ourselves with forms our narrative and reality, and if, say, your best friend posts on social media ‘I just read this great book!’ you are that much more likely to buy that book next time you are looking for something to read. It was good for your friend, and you know you like the same sort of books, so… and most of the time that works very well.

On the other hand, if your friend posts a meme from David Avocado Wolfe, and you just scan it and say ‘oh, RoundUp causes cancer? And I’ve seen ten other memes about that in the last week! It must be true.’ And I’m here to tell you that even Mother Jones has published an expose showing that the study published showing glyphosphate (active ingredient in RoundUp) was carcinogenic was based on flawed data, with proof that it was not cancer-causing being withheld by one of the main scientists.

Trust, but Verify. Relying on memes for solid data is a bad idea, but you wouldn’t know that from social media. Between confirmation bias making people click share before their brain has a chance to engage, and the phenomenon of ‘everybody knows’ the whole scandal over ‘fake news’ is simply human nature. Once that battle played out in yellow journalism, now it flashes across the face of the globe in an instant through the ‘intarwebs.’

Narrative is baked-in from birth. Family forms some, school takes over around the age of five (with preschool getting younger and younger these days, whether that’s good for children, or not doesn’t matter, it’s part of the social narrative that a child won’t succeed without pre-school). Increasingly, the narrative a child is told does not come from parents, but from teachers (or shall I say educators?), peers, the internet, and television. These have always been factors – or were, to some extent, but it is inescapable that in the Age of the Internet, just as in the Age of Steam before it, the revolution of technology has been overwhelmingly fast, and we are still processing the changes in our culture, and in our narratives.

Are the stories we tell true? How do we know? We must question, and listen critically to voices that are not telling us what we want to hear. When we take in the narrative of the media, we must ask ‘what is the bias?’ Above I mentioned the studies which led to low-fat diets, and possibly deleterious effects on the health of millions of Americans, were funded by the sugar industry. Who is paying for your news? What will they gain by telling this story? Dig down to see where the source of the story is. You’ll find, more often than not, a multitude of stories spring, like Zeus’ children, from the forehead of one journalist. Whether or not that original story was fact, or fiction. When a person wants something to be true hard enough, they unconsciously write that narrative, rather than the truth.

I keep hearing the cliche’d saying ‘there are three sides to every story. Yours, theirs, and the truth.’ Perhaps, but I find it annoying. Trained in investigation, I refuse to believe the implicit declaration in this: that the truth is unknowable. Instead, I think that with persistence, and evidence, truth can be known. If you are willing to accept that perhaps you are partly incorrect, and to admit that when you are, you can analyze the story and find the truth. If you are not willing to admit you may be wrong, then the truth is going to remain invisible to you.

188 responses to “A Precious Narrative By Cedar Sanderson

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    On “there are three sides to every story. Yours, theirs, and the truth.”, I may be missing something but I’ve never took it as implying that the truth was unknowable.

    But that’s a minor nit. Good article. 😀

    • You’re lucky if it’s only three. 😀

      • Well, yes but eyewitness testimony is somehow still accepted in court!

        • Daddy worked in the D.A.’s office and would tell me even eyewitness testimony can be less than entirely dependable. You can have cases when witnesses are sure that they are telling what they saw accurately and they will contradict each other, sometimes on significant points.

          We can easily understand that the position of the witness in relationship to the incident witnessed can have this effect. What is often overlooked is that what is noticed by a witness will be shaped by the narrative(s) already running in the head of the witness.

          • Eyewitness testimony is the cause of a very high percentage of false convictions which are, if the defendant is lucky, later overturned by physical evidence.

          • I recall hearing somewhere there’s a Russian saying on the subject of eyewitness testimony. “He lies like an eyewitness.”

          • Rule of thumb is to separate what was observed from what was interpreted. People will notice different things,

            Saw a good example of this in the Braves – Mariners game last night. A Braves pitcher threw the ball; there was a crack with movement of the bat, the Braves players run for the ball, get it before the player reaches first, and the umpire called the player out. The player, however, was in obvious pain and is inspected by members of the Mariner’s staff. What happened is that the ball hit his hand, maybe at the base of his thumb, hard enough that it made a crack identical to a ball hitting the bat. The umpire, unable to see the impact, assumed he had swung and hit the ball, and called him out. If you had asked the umpire right then, that’s what he would have told you. Would he have said “I heard the crack and saw the bat move” or would he have said :”He swung, hit the ball, and when the Braves made the play, I called him out.” Most likely the latter, but it’s incorrect because it’s based on an interpretation. He never – and couldn’t- see the ball strike the bat.

            The replay clearly showed the ball hitting his hand, and the call was reversed and a substitute player took first. And during the replay, I noticed something: The player, from the very start, was clearly in pain, but I had focused on the ball, not him. Then things didn’t add up with what I thought was happening, and I shifted attention to the player. I can’t even say if they threw to first. I assume they did, but by then my attention was elsewhere.

            • Reminds me of a call I made refereeing at a fencing tournament this past weekend. Left fencer does a leaping fletch that takes him between me and the right fencer, past the right fencer, and off the strip at the same time, blocking my view. Touch light registers for left fencer and I call a halt. I “knew” the right fencer made the touch as left fencer went by; but because I could not actually see the action, and could not verify if it was a single continuous action, or a second action by the right fencer, I had to disallow her touch.

              Sometimes doing the right thing means NOBODY is happy.

            • Nods.

              Makes me think of Stranger In A Strange Land — the idea of the true witness. For example: When I saw the house what I saw of the house I saw appeared to be white vs. the house is white.

              • Fair witness … head –> desk …

              • Perhaps also from Stranger, I don’t remember. Two old Vermont farmers chat out in the field.
                Farmer 1: Jones sheared his sheep.
                Farmer 2: ‘pears that way from this side.

              • Reminds me of a joke. A social scientist, a physicist and a mathematician are visiting Scotland. As they ride the train, they see a black sheep. The social scientist says “They have sheep in Scotland, and they are black!”

                The physicist says, “No there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and at least one of them is black.”

                The mathematician says, “No, there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and at least one side of that one sheep is black.”

          • I was on a jury a few years ago that saw this. A family squabble that got out of hand, finishing up with the victim being pursued outside the house by the defendant.

            Fortunately, it was only one witness (an overly excitable 12-year-old-boy) that disagreed with both the physical evidence and the other witnesses (including the victim and defendant!) about what happened. His memory of events was rather more colorful than what everyone else recalled (and the evidence matched) – you could see the prosecutor wincing from time to time when he gave his evidence (and probably wishing he’d not been called to the stand). But it would have made a good action movie.

            • /laugh
              I was stationed at Travis AFB back in the 1990s. Thanksgiving Day, and we had our priest over for coffee between masses. We were looking out the back window and we see this half naked guy running hell bent for leather around the back of his house and through a bunch of yards, being chased by his Filipino wife who was wielding a large meat cleaver.
              My wife asked the priest if he was going to do something and he said, “Yeah, what’s the number to the security police?” We all laughed and made the call. Ever since then we’ve referred to those neighbors as, “The Cleavers.”

        • Why not? Sure, it’s opinion. So is ‘circumstantial’ evidence, when you get down to it. We’re seeing thousands of cases called into question because it comes out that various crime labs had lousy procedure (or flat out faked things on order).

          This is why laws written to ‘make sure’ that people we believe are guilty get convicted of SOMETHING are so goddamned dangerous. The process is already weighed down by emotion, opinion, and narrative.

    • I think it irritates me because it implies I haven’t done my due diligence in supporting what I’m saying, or that it is being used to dismiss what I’m saying because I’m saying ‘my side’ which is separated from the ‘truth’

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Ah, I see your point.

        Personally, I believe there’s an element of truth in the saying but it can be correct to say that “one side” is closer to the truth than the “other side”.

        Mind you, I haven’t had enough coffee this morning. 😉

    • It’s the implication that ‘they’ are wrong, ‘you’ are wrong (and perhaps the one making the claim is somehow ‘right’) that I find irritating.

      • To further complicate things, the saying doesn’t take into account that what I say and what you say may seem to be in conflict, and thus conflict with the truth, but *both* can be true when the dust settles and you figure out exactly what the truth is!

        And the example that immediately popped into mind was photons. Light is a wave! Light is a particle! The truth (at least as far as we’ve been able to discern so far) is that light is both!

  2. Truth, narratives, and what happens. Truth I am finding is a very flexible thing and extremely mutable over eras. What one generation believes is true will be upended or proven not quite so. Science is big for this just looking at past atom models and how much they have changed even in the past 200 years.
    History is another example where things we knew to be so turned out not to be.
    Narratives now, those are vicious vile little memes created by one group and passed down sometimes for generations. One good example is that your predecessors thought the world was flat and that we would sail off the edge. Dig down and you discover that this was a myth created I believe in the Victorian era to make the modern day thinkers appear to be oh so much more enlightened then the shoulders of the giants they were standing on.
    Trouble is that now with so much information out there and so many good truths. it’s easier for people to believe in the narratives rather then dig down for what really happened or go discover the truest version.

    • Yep, and there are STILL people who believe that whole Flat Earth thing. It’s CRAZY!

    • Science is the process of stepwise refinement. Most people who claim the label of “scientist” are just university professors, stuck with whatever they were taught as undergrads, and unable to unlearn it. The media just assumes anyone with a white lab coat and a degree is a “scientist.”

      The guys at the coal face know they’re only working with approximations. Their goal isn’t “Truth”, whatever that is, but to get a better approximation.

      Newtonian mechanics slices as fine as you need for ballistics, or even interplanetary travel. Old-style quantum mechanics lit up the sky over Trinity, underpinned understanding of semiconductor electronics, and so forth. Out at the edges of the astronomically large and the sub-atomic small, ordinary quantum mechanics is no longer able to predict or explain what we think we see. So we have one group of researchers trying to spackle over the holes of QM while another group looks for an entirely new way to view the universe. Whatever that new way is, it will likely eventually break down as new instruments extend our ability to observe.

      The fact that a model is superceded doesn’t make it wrong; it just means that the model doesn’t work for what you’re trying to use it for. If you’re clubbing an antifa with a stick, the fact that the mass of the stick grew 0.000,000,000,000,000,001% due to relativistic effects is unimportant; plain old Newtonian mechanics slices plenty fine for “thump!”

      It doesn’t matter if the model is “true”, only whether it works well enough to accomplish the job you’re using it for.

      • Re: “The guys at the coal face know they’re only working with approximations. Their goal isn’t “Truth”, whatever that is, but to get a better approximation.”

        “Science is the search for FACT, not ‘truth’. If it’s Truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.” — Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr.

      • I still remember a phrase I learned in the one undergraduate economics course I took. “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

        I like to point out that it’s impossible to trisect an angle with only a straightedge and compass. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to trisect an angle mathematically, though. In engineering, it *is* impossible to trisect an angle, because it’s impossible to do anything exactly (and know that you succeeded), but you can do it within a certain margin of error, based on what tools and measuring instruments you have at hand.

  3. One of the more laughable ideas I’ve been seeing floating around this week is that the successful prediction of the eclipse automatically confers legitimacy upon everything the Left declares “science.” The reason I find it so amusing is that we have thousands of years of successful eclipse predictions that were based upon the geocentric theory, which is entirely wrong. The key is that you can’t just look at successful predictions when evaluating a theory, you need to look at the failed predictions. If supporters have to keep adjusting the calculations to make the predictions match reality (or adjusting the data to match the predictions), there’s probably something wrong with the underlying theory.

    • Epicycles might not be true, but they can a reasonably accurate predictive model. Another, simpler(?), model came along and replaced that.

      I saw one system that was actually not all that far off. It used the heliocentric model, but took to elliptic orbits for the (now) major planets by relying on the relatively low eccentricity of the orbits. It assumed circular orbits and applied a correction factor. I think the text was from about 1950 or so (thus personal computational gear was not as common or as fast as what is on your phone nowadays) and the correction factors would be “good enough” to at least get a planet in the low-power field of view of a small telescope. At least for a couple decades. How good that system would (still based on the original, not updated starting info) might be interesting. Of course, nowadays, a short web search will reveal things. Or the computerized ‘scope computer* will take of the details.

      * I do wonder how many can “star-hop” or such and find even the basic Messier objects without aid of more than wits and a chart.

      • As I understand it, the models didn’t get more simple, but more complicated, until they figured out the elliptic orbits. Part of the reason that there was resistance to the change.

        • Are you suggesting that people can be wed to a narrative even when proven inaccurate?

          Watching people, who’d have thought it?

          • It wasn’t proven inaccurate. Copernicus’s model was only slightly simpler, and was less accurate. It was Kepler’s model that actually simplified matters.

            • While I do not wish to argue the matter, simplicity and accuracy are two different things. In some cases they overlap, but certainly not all.

              My point was that people are attached to their ideas, and are loath to discard ‘what I know to be true.’

        • Copernicus’ model was simpler but it still had epicycles because he assumed perfectly circular orbits. In fact, Copernicus included a foreward in his book basically saying that he wasn’t proposing that the sun was actually at the center of the universe, just that the math became much easier if the person doing the calculations made that assumption. That was a major source of resistance to change, Copernicus’ model wasn’t essentially better and it contradicted the Church’s interpretation of the Bible. When Kepler finally did away with epicycles by assuming elliptical orbits heliocentrism quickly became the established model.

          • I have sometimes wondered what the math would be like, assuming geocentricism, but then figuring out the equations of the curves that the planets travel on from there, rather than assuming perfect circular orbits with epicircles…

      • Every theory, every law, every formula is a model. People tend to forget that, or that things get interesting when events don’t go as predicted.

    • Ha! And yet, if you use the converse argument – that the persistent inaccuracy of ‘climate change’ predictions invalidates the idea that the science is settled – they talk about something else very quickly.

      • Actually, if you point that out they simply claim that the data does agree with the predictions. They neglect to mention that the data is in fact adjusted from the raw data in such a manner that it matches the predictions.

    • … the geocentric theory, which is entirely wrong.

      Not entirely wrong, surely? Cannot all motion of the universe be calculated relative to a single fixed point, whatever.wherever that point might be?

      Of course, some fixed points make the calculations much easier than others.

      • Doesn’t Kerbal Space Program or such use that? The ship or whatever of interest is always at 0,0,0 and the in-world universe is all in relation to it?

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          Ugh… I’ve been reading/hearing about the relationship between the reference frame you measure from an airplane and some other reference frame you compare it to.

          • If you fly a coordinated turn, down is straight down and the earth has rotated! You can see it with your own eyes and back it up with photographic evidence. Actually the same thing happens with a motorcycle, and strangely, the force of gravity is dependent on bank angle as well! Adding a sidecar nullifies the effect – some strange forces at work here.

          • My college physics professor liked to do quizzes at the start of class in lieu of taking a roll call. (A piece of paper blank aside from the student’s name was worth half of the credit. If he decided to have more than one question on the quiz, they were for extra credit.) When we were doing basic relativity (hah) we’d have multiple reference points going at various speeds of c and had to calculate the factors involved. (Things like a relativistic bug smashed from a sub-lightspeed car at an additional fraction of c towards a stop sign, for example.)

            I actually did really well on a lot of those questions, which I attribute to my SF reading. The twin question actually came up at one point, for example. (Twin in spaceship at a significant amount of c passes by planet with other twin, what does each twin see? Assuming, of course, that we’re not worry about how the one got accelerated.) I think I was the only person to get that one right.

        • Sometimes I assume my car is fixed in its spot in the universe, and I can control how the Earth moves with my brake and gas pedals and my steering wheel.

          Fortunately for me, the world has never flipped over and crushed the top of my vehicle yet…and I hope it never will!

      • The only way to make it right is to use a non-inertial frame of reference. Generally, non-inertial frames indicate that you’re looking at the system from the inside.

      • “Of course, some fixed points make the calculations much easier than others.”

        It’s turtles, all the way down.

    • Not all science is alike. The moon’s behavior is highly regular, highly predictable, and fairly simple as natural systems go. It is also long studied and predates the Copernican revolution in astronomy and Newton’s reformulation of mechanics.

      Climate science is not nearly so simple. Weather and climate are due to complex interacting cycles, with small causes sometimes being amplified to produce large effects, and large causes sometimes being damped to produce small effects. It has been established that detailed long-range weather prediction is mathematically and computationally intractable. The anthropogenic global warming alarmists have repeatedly made predictions and forecasts that have been proven spectacularly wrong, which ought to dispel the notion that the science they claim to be using is sound.

      • …the science they claim to be using is sound.

        Well, there’s your problem! No wonder the models for climate are all divergent with observations – nobody can create a climate model based solely on acoustics.

        • Climate and acoustics are both just fluid dynamics. Just like chemistry and particle physics are both just quantum mechanics.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            That’s strange, I thought I saw some heat transfer equations somewhere… 🙂

          • Everything but sociology and accounting are actually quantum mechanics.

            • Trying to use quantum mechanics in your accounting can get you in trouble with the IRS.
              Did I make a profit or a loss? Either could be true, until you open the books…….

              • Mostly I consider this a shortcoming of the business school accounting curriculum – not enough advanced physics requirements.

    • “The key is that you can’t just look at successful predictions when evaluating a theory, you need to look at the failed predictions.”

      All good (successful) crystal-ball readers can make some successful predictions.
      Stopped clock is right twice a day, etc.

  4. Narratives. One of the biggest I see out there today is that Evil can be defeated by force. You just get hold of the bad guy and you beat it out of him. Find the Nazi and kill him!

    Look there, that guy! He’s a NAZI! Kill him!!! Oops, sorry, its just some hipster with a goofy haircut. http://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.ca/2017/08/my-only-comment-on-charlotte-riot.html

    Kids, you can’t defeat evil by force. There’s a Truth in life, and part of that Truth is that force doesn’t really do much in the face of evil. Sometimes its all you’ve got, but if that’s the case then you are really screwed.

    I wrote a story this spring and early summer. There’s demons vs. sexy robots. (Hey, I’m a guy. If there’s robots, they’ll be sexy ones. Its a Narrative, ok?) Being the softy that I am, I gave the robots every advantage. Really BIG weapons, you know? Overwhelming numerical advantage. Perfect intelligence gathering. It was completely unfair and one-sided. (Who gives demons an even break? Shoot ’em!)

    They still nearly lost.

    The biggest problem I had was finding a way for them to win. You assume a fairly durable Evil that can recruit suckers to its side, even a cartoonish and mostly physical one, it gets hard to find something to nuke that will improve the situation. As a thought experiment it was quite revealing.

    I used to say that Hippie Punching Is Never Wrong. It was funny to imagine the stereotypical whiny dope-smoking vegetarian wanker getting a smack for being the odoriferous blot that he was. But when I was saying it, no one was really doing it. I don’t say it anymore.

    Now we’ve got the intellectual descendants of the Flower Children running around in the streets looking for the KKK so they can Punch A Nazi. Sadly, the KKK died out in the 1960s. The Righteous Ones have nobody to fight. So they’re fighting Joe the Plumber over gender neutral bathrooms. They’re rioting over the POTUS making a fairly pedestrian speech in Phoenix. They’re attacking crappy statues that nobody has paid a lick of attention to since they went up 100 years ago.

    They’re attacking some kid in the parking lot of the Steak ‘n Shake in Sheridan, Colorado because he has a short haircut.

    Force is a very limited tool. It has a distinct tendency to turn in your hand and cut you.

    • “Sexy robots”

      Her steering wheel.. has sex appeal…

    • I find the narrative that ‘violence never solves anything’ just as pernicious. Or ‘violence is the last resort of the incompetent ‘. If that last is true, it’s only because the competent use violence earlier, when it might do some good.

      • Since we love us some Heinlein:
        Those who cling to the untrue doctrine that violence never settles anything would be advised to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Nations and peoples who forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.

        It might not eliminate evil (or good), but it most certainly can push it off for another generation or two, or force it to prowl other territories for its victims.

        • Well, really, the issue is that people who say “violence never solves anything” really mean “violence, applied now, will decide aganst me” or (more charitably) “violence tends to decide issues in ways I don’t like”.

          Both may be completely reasonable positions. But they aren’t the same as “never solves anything”.

        • I’ll take your Heinlein, and raise you a Colonel Jeff Cooper:

          One bleeding-heart type asked me in a recent interview if I did not agree that ‘violence begets violence.’ I told him that it is my earnest endeavor to see that it does. I would like very much to ensure — and in some cases I have — that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy.

          Ah, blast it, the page I got that from had a few other good quotes that seem relevant here!


          The purpose of the pistol is to stop a fight that somebody else has started, almost always at very short range.

          and also

          Bushido is all very well in its way, but it is no match for a 30-06.

          and even

          The 1911 pistol remains the service pistol of choice in the eyes of those who understand the problem. Back when we audited the FBI academy in 1947, I was told that I ought not to use my pistol in their training program because it was not fair. Maybe the first thing one should demand of his sidearm is that it be unfair.*

          * (This last one is great for those who insist that it’s somehow unfair for a kid minding his own business in his own home to use an AR-15 to stop three masked intruders armed with knives and brass knuckles from doing him harm…)

      • The “violence never solves anything” is mere intellectual snobbery. Violence is a tool. It works on the problems it was made for. Sometimes, you just gotta shoot that guy.

        I do agree with the notion that ‘violence is the last resort of the incompetent.’ If you’re in a fight, you f-ed up bigtime. Rule Number One of combat, don’t be in a fight unless you have won before it starts.

        Example, North Korea. The USA does -not- want to fight North Korea. Men will die, cities will be destroyed, and that’s if the USA -wins.- Imagine defeat. What the USA wants to do is turn North Korea into a vibrant, growing Capitalist nation with lots of happy citizens working hard to make stuff for Americans to buy, making money to buy American stuff. Like China.

        My point is a little different. You can’t destroy an evil ideology by violence. You can make its adherents run away, you can scare them into submission, you can make them hide, and very often that’s what we have to settle for. But its still there, festering. It comes back. What’s the difference between Antifa and the Brownshirts of the 1930’s? Brownshirts had snappier outfits. Same exact narrative.

        Look at the Antifa out there, white kids beating up people for being white. How convincing is that as an argument? If we go beat Antifa up, how convincing will that be? About the same.

        What finally killed the real KKK? TIME, is what. They all got old and died. Also the comprehensive debunking and mockery of their core ideals. You literally can’t read their tracts without laughing.

        As writers, our ability is to write stories that make your average Antifa Useful Idiot think about his/her life and stop being idiots. That’s something we can do.

        How do you fight a narrative? With a better, truer narrative.

        • If you’re in a fight, you f-ed up bigtime.

          To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
          Sun Tzu

        • “What’s the difference between Antifa and the Brownshirts of the 1930’s? Brownshirts had snappier outfits. Same exact narrative.”
          The German NAZIs had Hugo Boss to design the uniforms.
          Those I have heard stating that “violence never solves anything” (or will not solve whatever problem they are causing) are the ones who want the Govt to use the violence to destroy their opponents, so that their own “civilized” hands never get dirty.
          For me, “I have a little list, they never will be missed”

      • a quote from the Great PTerry fits here:
        “‘War, Nobby. Huh! What’s it good for?’ he said. ‘Dunno, sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?’ ‘Absol- Well, okay.’ ‘Defending yourself from a totalitarian aggressor?’ ‘All right, I’ll grant you that, but -’ ‘Saving civilization against a horde of -’ ‘It doesn’t do any good in the long run is what I’m saying, Nobby, if you’d listen for five seconds together,’ said Fred Colon sharply. ‘Yeah, but in the long run what does, sarge?’”

      • Violence is the last resort of the incompetent because the competent don’t wait until the last resort to break out the violence.

    • the KKK died out in the 1960s.

      Like Dracula, they’ve been raised from the grave because when you are in the vampire-hunting business you must have vampires to hunt.

      The antifa activists are reinvigorating the Klan because the Klan is seen as opposing everything the antifa represent.

      • The KKK and neo-Nazis MUST exist, because if they didn’t folks might realize that the Antifa are themselves fascist assholes who attack people who take mildly non-SJW positions. If that happened, people might decide that the ones who deserve to be thrown in jail so hard they bounce are the Antifa and their hobby-protester kin. And that would be REALLY AWFUL.

        • The KKK and neo-Nazis MUST exist because they are the antithesis of Antifa; they are called into existence by the Antifa’s actions and declarations.

          People look at Antifa and declare, “Well, if being against them makes me a Nazi, I might as well dress snazzy.”

        • Technically they are Communist. They actually started out in the 1930s as the militant wing of the German Communist Party.

    • Dan Hamilton

      Force doesn’t work. BS. NAZI’s, Slave Trade, War of Northern Aggression, and many other examples. Force may not be the BEST answer but it is ALWAYS an answer.
      BTW: Islamic Terrorism can only be slowed by FORCE. There is NO peaceful answer, unless you want to surrender. And that is only peaceful after they kill you. You can have peace or you can have Muslims, you cannot have both. That is a truth that must be faced.

      • You misunderstand. I don’t mean to say that the use of force is always wrong. Sometimes, you’ve got no choice. The thinking man will try to arrange never to be stuck in that fight-or-die position. Being there means you screwed up by the numbers. Please see Sun Tsu for elucidation.

        “Islamic Terrorism can only be slowed by FORCE.”

        Islamic terrorism is no different than any other time terrorism has been used as a weapon. They used to say the same thing about the IRA. Its been a while since the Irish blew anything up in England. Funny how that was managed without an Irish genocide or even a small war.

        Unfortunately I see no evidence of Europeans making any move to do anything intelligent regarding Islamic terrorism. If Western nations ended welfare for immigrants that would pretty much do it. Not doing it is a world-class screw up.

        What’s -going- to happen in Europe is the same thing that always happens. The elite will keep feathering their nests until the nest goes on fire, the peasants will rise up and kill a few million handy scapegoats, and it will be a big lovely ball of blood-smothered evil.

        -Evil- cannot be defeated by force.

        • Nazi Germany would beg to differ.

          • Not really. That’s my point, Draven. The Nazi narrative is out there running around in Charleston NC beating people. That was a clash between two sets of socialist a-holes who both believe beating people up is how you fix society.

            Its a narrative. It didn’t die. Force won’t kill it. Its still alive and kicking our asses.

            • no, its really not, its marginalized and hiding in the corners and only visible today because AntiFa is calling them out.

            • Charleston, NC?

              There’s a Charleston, SC, but I believe you’re thinking of Charlottesville, VA.

              Loathe though I am to cite Harry Harrison philosophically, the Antifa/Klan-Nazi imbroglio recalls to mind his thesis in Deathworld that it is our projection of threat that generates the threatening reaction (taken too far, of course, you get the Cold War idiocy that Western defenses provoked the Soviets.)

              We’re looking at Monsters from the Id, unleashed straining at their bonds.

        • Funny how that was managed without an Irish genocide or even a small war.

          The Nationalist Irish weren’t fighting to take over the entire world and force them into subjugation to Cuchulain.

          • But they – or at least a sizable number of them – were fighting to unite Norther Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. They failed in that goal, largely because the majority of the Catholic population didn’t feel that the goal was worth the violence.

            The Good Friday Agreement largely worked because pretty much everyone on both sides of the conflict were sick of the killing and the dying. The Oslo Accords failed because one side wasn’t.

            • There was still a lot of sporadic violence right through the 90s. It was dying out by then, and 9/11 put it to bed for good. I’m pretty sure that everyone who was contemplating violence still by that point looked at that event and thought, “no, it really isn’t worth it.”

        • Those of us who believe evil an inescapable component of human nature cannot help but reflect that human nature is not susceptible to change by force, that, indeed, employing force in an effort to change human nature is itself evil.

          Force is capable of defeating certain expressions of evil.

          • That’s more where I was going with it. Force doesn’t change people. People change voluntarily, or not at all.

          • You can’t change human nature through force, but you can change human behavior. At the very least the dead are rather ineffective at doing evil things.

            I don’t really care if you refrain from killing me because you don’t want to kill me or because you’re afraid of dying yourself.

            • “I don’t really care if you refrain from killing me because you don’t want to kill me or because you’re afraid of dying yourself.”

              In connection with this thread and whether violence ever accomplishes anything, the classic quote jumped to mind:
              “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
              (While this is normally attributed to Orwell (and his comment on Kipling’s Tommy comes close), it is possible that it was originally reduced to this form by film critic and essayist Richard Grenier in 1993.)

              In other words, the (non-empty) threat of violence allows civilization to exist.

          • You can change human nature through force. Children are inherently self-centered and inconsiderate. A good parent applies force, reason, structure, love, and persuasion to mold small children into civilized adults.

            What is spanking if not the measured application of force to ..enforce… boundaries and rules?

            • That is a can of worms. I’m not going to open it.

            • Spanking, operant conditioning, does not change human nature, it changes human behaviour. There is a difference. Children are also inherently ignorant but nobody argues that is a fundamental component of human nature.

              • Nobody would argue that ignorance is a fundamental component of human nature? I beg to differ.

                I have an imaginary conversation in my head, where a random stranger walks up and asks if I knew any mathematics…and I would reply “Yes, I know a little bit.”

                By a little bit, I “merely” have a PhD. But that is enough for me to know that I know almost nothing about mathematics. And while I wish I could have spent the last decade studying mathematics instead of pretending to be a software developer, it doesn’t matter: give me a thousand years to study the topic, and I’ll still know almost nothing about mathematics.

                Thus, I would argue that it’s unavoidable: people are inherently ignorant — and these are the people who study! Imagine how ignorant the people who float through life are. (Yet, as ignorant as they are, they are also far more expert in certain things that even the well-studied are ignorant in — this is, after all, the very nature of our inherent ignorance.)

                It is the arrogance of the well-studied to believe that they are so well-studied, and so intelligent, that they can do a better job of running the lives of millions of people, than those very millions of people themselves, even though the collective expertise of those millions of people freely associating with each other far exceeds anything the well-studied individual could learn within his lifetime, or even a thousand lifetimes.

                And it’s interesting to observe that the one being who *does* know everything will, for the most part, leave us to our own decisions, rather than force us to do what He knows is best for us — and will only provide guidance when we humble ourselves and ask for it.

                • “It is the arrogance of the well-studied to believe that they are so well-studied, and so intelligent, that they can do a better job of running the lives of millions of people, than those very millions of people themselves, even though the collective expertise of those millions of people freely associating with each other far exceeds anything the well-studied individual could learn within his lifetime, or even a thousand lifetimes.”

                  The same argument as in Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”, in which he also concludes that said experts always end up imposing their “solutions” by force (see comment above on violence).

    • Then give up self defense and surrender.

      Because there are only two options: finish the fight, quit.

    • … the KKK died out in the 1960s …

      In the mid 1970s I saw fliers posted near my school in Tennessee promoting a local Klan rally that read, ‘Save the land, Join the Klan, For God and Country.’

      On November 3, 1979 members of the KKK shot at Communists holding a Death to the Klan rally in Greensboro, NC.

      The Klan remains, the thing we need to do is to keep them a curious side-show with no power.

      • Sheesh, KKK shooting at communists. Fascists beating up neo-NAZIs (and being beat up by them). Why is this a problem for us? Why can’t we turn it into pay-per-view, and pay off the national debt? That way it’s a win for everyone but the totalitarians?

  5. I am forty seven year old male who’s learned that people don’t like to have their assumptions challenged. A few girlfriends over the years would over react to minor incidents and I would them to call down, you’re overreacting and getting crazy about nothing. It turns out telling people who making themselves crazy to calm down is not a good strategy or argument, it makes things much worse in fact. So it is really difficult to change someone’s mind, no matter how wrong or irrational they are.

    Humanity barely knows anything for certain at moment, what we consider true today will most likely not be true in even fifty years. I read a book recently called Half life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman which talks about how even best science of today will be half obsolete within thirty to forty years while poor science and dire social sciences produce results that don’t even last five years.

  6. From a 1909 speech [*] “Free inquiry in matters of science” (La libre examen en matière scientifique) by the mathematician, physicist, and philosopher of science Henri Poincaré:

    Thought must never submit,
    neither to a dogma,
    nor to a party,
    nor to a passion,
    nor to an interest,
    nor to a preconceived idea,
    nor to anything whatsoever but the facts themselves—
    since for thought,
    surrendering means ceasing to be.

    [The speech was in honor of the 75th anniversary of Brussels Free University and appears in his collected writings. 1st attempt at posting here, with source URLlink, was stuck in moderation.]

  7. As someone who has seen a bit of the inside of the sausage factory when it comes to “peer reviewed science,” I could share a few stories:

    There was a paper I reviewed that contained a mathematical proof which had equations that were obviously wrong and some circular reasoning that an eighth grader should have caught. Of 3 reviewers on the paper, I was the only one who complained about it.

    There was a gene that everyone “knew” caused cancer (no, I’m afraid I can’t remember which one it was at this point). Eventually, someone decided to figure out how it was that we knew that, traced all the papers mentioning it and their references and their references’ references and found that the primary source were four papers, all published by the same lab, all based on the same experiment.

    There’s the tale of the number of genes in the human genome. Before the human genome project, it was thought there were 100,000-200,000. Once the mapping began, the scientists in charge started to say that it was probably at the low end of that. Then they started to say that it was maybe even a bit lower, perhaps only 80,000 or so. Then it was adjusted downward to 50,000. It wasn’t until the project was done that they admitted what their numbers had been telling them all along: it was only 20,000. The official excuse is that they assumed that they had just started in a sparse region of the genome. Maybe that holds water when you’re 10% through and have only found 2,000 genes, but it’s considerably less convincing when you’re 90% through, have found 18,000, and are still insisting that that last 10% must contain more genes than the rest of the genome put together…

    I could go on in this vein for quite a while. I still believe that science is our best way of learning about the world, but it’s important to remember that scientists are people and as Cedar says, are subject to their own narratives. Sometimes they want something to be true so badly they select only the data that supports that. Sometimes they want to be liked by their colleagues, so refuse to challenge the consensus even when their data is telling them the consensus is wrong. And sometimes they’re just lazy and don’t want to work through the details so will just accept something another scientist has claimed as true.

    • As far as I know “peer review” started in England, with the Royal Society, and spread to Oxbridge and then out into the rest of the world. The groups of researchers and interested parties was small, and mostly knew each other, and often didn’t like each other much, so they’d pick any faults they could with papers.

      Things grew, as they tend to do, and where there might be dozens of people in a field, now there are tens of thousands, scattered all over the world, most of them virtually anonymous. Paper reviewing became a hassle due to the sheer volume, particularly when it was expected to be done for free.

      The peer review process wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t scaleable. And the volume of papers continues to grow, and the amount of sheer balderdash has become to huge that people seriously talk about “data replication crisis” instead of admitting some papers are wholly fictional.

      • Did I have excess money I think it would be fun to establish an annual cash prize for the unsettling of science. Winners would be those who had done the best job of disproving “known” facts, peering into the review process (no back-scratching allowed) and otherwise acted to advance human knowledge by defenestrating false knowledge.

        Think of it as the scientific establishment equivalent of a third house of the legislature, one dedicated to repealing laws.

        • “Think of it as the scientific establishment equivalent of a third house of the legislature, one dedicated to repealing laws.”

          A Constitutional Amendment I could support.

    • Ive been reading stories about scientists who receive two or three hundred million dollars from fed government to fight cancer with interesting technique lab has created and then their work does not pan out like hoped and there is enormous pressure on researchers to falsify numbers or try to save face in different way.

      Massive, expensive projects that don’t turn out as initially hoped are also corrupting science because of large amounts of money involved.

      • Oh, yeah, no question. You spent millions of dollars to get this data, you have to have SOMETHING to show for it. And even if you’re too honest to just outright falsify the data…well, it’s a truism that if you torture the data long enough, eventually it will give up something. And if you do 400 different regression analyses on it, sooner or later you’ll get some correlation that you can state with a .01 confidence level.

      • As DadRed says (he used to do some lab science): You never get grants for proving the null hypothesis. Even though it can be vitally important to prove.

        • Yes, but (to borrow from XKCD)… the null hypothesis? Are people still trying to prove that one? There were several major papers back in the ’60s that disproved it pretty conclusively. I’d say the science is settled by now, wouldn’t you?


  8. Nobody has ever scientifically PROVEN that Truth even exists. Why won’t “they” let us do that research?! It’s a conspiracy by the anti-truth lobby I tells ya!!! (well… them and the squirrels… Lyin little bastards…)

    • I was informed by a Syrian Orthodox priest that “We [the Orthodox Church] do not have the truth, we ARE the truth.” 🙂

    • If religion is having faith in that which you cannot prove to be true, then mathematics is the only thing that has proven itself to be a religion…

  9. > ‘data is not anecdote’

    Or as I like to say, “Data is not knowledge.”

    • I sometimes think we’re too quick to throw out anecdotes. The thing is, though, anecdotes are very important. If you see an outlier, sometimes you can throw it out because it’s a measurement error, but sometimes it’s the most important data point in your set — the thing that disproves your nice little theory, but establishes a new one — so rather than reflexively throw out outliers, they should be examined closely.

      OTOH, anecdotes also put a human face on the individual data points that create the statistics. We can statistically demonstrate that ObamaCare is doing more harm than good, but the supporters are going to trot out all the people who ObamaCare has helped. If the Republicans knew what they were doing, they’d trot out all the people that ObamaCare has hurt!

      Data is what we get when we measure things, statistics is what we get when we try to understand the big picture of those measurements…but anecdotes is what helps us understand the human souls of those who are measured.

      • “Data is what we get when we measure things, statistics is what we get when we try to understand the big picture of those measurements…but anecdotes is what helps us understand the human souls of those who are measured.”

        Well said.

  10. > ‘there are three sides to every story. Yours, theirs, and the truth.’

    I’ve had people tell me that to my face, who were apparently shocked to find that I objected to being called a liar.

    They have no particular regard for truth, and say whatever they think will gain advantage. They assume everyone else does the same.

    Then you have the philospher types, who have convinced themselves there is no overriding Truth-with-a-capital-T, therefore the world is whatever they say it is. They’re liars too, they’re just trying to hide it.

    • The three sides of a story idea has nothing, or at least very little, to do with lying; it deals with perception and bias. You can see the same event as someone else and see it completely differently, but neither one of you is “lying.”
      The gross example would be a colour-blind person and a person with normal colour vision describing a sunset. One of you closer to an accurate description than the other, but not because the less accurate person is actively not telling the truth. And the colour sighted person’s description may be off “the Truth” to a third party due to differences in vocabulary.

      This idea deals explicitly with the concept that there is absolute truth, but that truth can be hard to ascertain.

      That being said, some people’s side of the story is always a little closer to the truth than others.

      (No idea why my hands suddenly decided to type color with the British spelling…)

      • I have noticed that the internet seems to induce problems with word meanings. So many people seem incapable of remembering that “lying” implies a deliberate act consisting of two elements: knowledge of truth and deliberate misrepresentation.

        TL:DR version: it isn’t a lie if the person believes what they are saying, and believing what you assert does not make it true.

  11. Cedar, I enjoyed reading this, especially your example of the Roundup Meme — since I remember asking your advice on responding to that meme when a friend posted — and you gave me those two excellent links. Not sure how many people you pulled those out for, but i was one of them.

    On whether reality is “absolute” or “moldable” by the individual, I have borrowed/formulated my own philosophy on that. I’ll share it here badly:

    The old theologians talked about God as The Divine Object, and about a definite, objective reality. I grew up in that school. Then I ran into Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and learned the concept of “The Divine Subject”. From it I formulated this rough understanding — That there is an objective reality out there, that will be what it is, no matter what we think or deny about it; That we only experience that objective reality subjectively, or relationally, by relating to it. Some of that reality, being especially social, is even more subjective and created by people, but still has some objective base.

    Since reality is objective, but experienced subjectively, one truth can be experienced in different ways by different people, and still be true. It can’t be experienced just any old way someone wants to make it — there is an objective reality in there. This is how the same principle, or object, about what is right for your three children can mean you do three different things for them, while adhering to the same principal, because they all relate differently. Once again, you can’t do just any old thing — truth isn’t anything you want it to be, but you can do different things to adhere to the same objective truth.

    • And you mention – without stating it – the problem with science as the foundation for “reality”: Science can only answer physical questions, not metaphysical; and “Truth” is metaphysical, at least in part.
      Unless you’re an absolute materialist. In which case, I feel sorry for you.

      • I am not a materialist. But I usually refrain from discussing my thoughts on the metaphysical in public.

      • Well, not so much cannot answer questions about the metaphysical, but can only provide a method of inquiry into the tangible. When it comes to questions of what was Custer’s last words, or even something so basic as love and hate, science cannot provide answers because neither is tangible. Science is a tool, nothing more nor less, and as with any tool, has it’s limits. A set of dado blades is a fine thing, but you can’t bore pilot holes with them.

        What it ultimately means for those who believe science can eventually answer all questions is that to do so, they must limit the questions to the tangible. They must reject not only the metaphysical, but even love, or attempt to reduce it to a rickety hormonal cypher.

        • What it ultimately means for those who believe science can eventually answer all questions is that to do so, they must limit the questions to the tangible. They must reject not only the metaphysical, but even love, or attempt to reduce it to a rickety hormonal cypher.
          And that’s why I pity them.

    • There have been repeated demonstrations of the eagerness of the soft sciences to extend their reality to the hard sciences. But the two fields are entirely different, dealing with different universes.

      The soft sciences are correct when they claim that in any given social interaction the reality of that interaction is the cumulative realities of the participants; each party may be, from their own perspective, entirely reasonable. Each party may be, from their own perspective, unreasonably provoked. Because the cumulative experience of the interaction is the product of their individual subjective experiences contradiction need not be resolved and almost inherently occurs.

      OTOH, the subjective experience of F=MA does nothing to alter the objective effect of such interaction. Hard sciences are hard because they address the physical world, even if barely grasped (cough*Quantum Physics*cough). Soft sciences, being entirely focused on the metaphysical, may borrow the methodologies of the hard sciences but will never create hard knowledge of their own.

      One man’s terrorist may indeed be another man’s freedom fighter, but the C4 explodes the same either way.

      • > the soft sciences

        …aren’t science. They’re just dogma and opinion trying to legitimize themselves.

        • Mmmmmmm … I would allow that, properly done, they remain science. They have much in common with Quantum Physics in their use of statistical probability to “develop” knowledge. Such sciences offer a useful analytical and predictive framework even if they cannot be reduced to firm theorems. We can afford to be generous, albeit we ought take their nostrums with a reasonable pinch of skepticism.

          For those who wish to argue that Quantum Physics is more like witchcraft than like science I can offer no rebuttal.

          • The main difference is that the “soft sciences” can use scientific method to achieve a certain value of “normal”, but they can’t establish anything deterministic. Because “hard science” deals in “if I put x in this equation, I will get y.” “Soft science” says “If I put x in this situation, I am likely to get y, but… Mule.”
            Because “soft sciences” deal with that Great Instability, the one known as “man”. And deterministic is one thing that man is not – at least in anything other than great masses.

            This is not to say hard science never encounters a “Huh. Never saw that coming.” But, that is primarily a matter of not adequately understanding the science or insufficient data.
            Nor is it to say that soft sciences don’t gain from some use of the scientific technique. But, they come up lacking when they claim the scientific technique gives them predictive abilities, or when they say it establishes something with certainty.
            (Hard sciences have this problem, too, when folks insist the “science is settled” and fail to recognize the limitations of their theory/hypothesis/model.)
            Yet again, hubris is man’s primary sin.

        • I’ve seen an alternate definition of “a science” that is “a body of knowledge organized so as to be useful.” By that definition, the soft sciences have at least the potential to fit.

          However, the soft “science” often try to obscure the difference between that definition of science and the regular definition, and thus claim that their latest theories have the same backing as “F=ma” or the existence of DNA.

    • What is the divine preposition? the divine adverb?

    • The “hard” sciences of such as physics, chemistry, astronomy, earth science, and biology deal with nature, which is comparatively simple, regular, and predictable, although there is a scale of increasing complexity.
      However, once you begin to examine the various attempts to include human behavior using the methods of science, things begin to fall apart. Human behavior is infinitely complex, subtle, resists reduction to elementary principles, and even changes based on how it is observed. The study is also much more susceptible to ideological and institutional biases. By the time you get to the comparatively weak standards for accepting truth and rejecting errors, many of the “soft sciences” are no better founded than the superstition they claim to replace.

      • This is why I have major doubts about attempts to fix global warming by regulating human behavior. The climate is already a chaotic system with thousands of parts that are difficult to understand how they interact with each other. And human behavior is known to have billions of actors who interact with each other in unpredictable ways.

        Do you really expect me to believe that you can easily and simply apply pressure to one chaotic system, so that you could control another one in any meaningful way? Particularly if, as you claim, the climate is unstable, and it could be plunged into a hot house or an ice box with a single bad move? *Particularly* when things like carbon credits in Europe, have, if they’ve done anything at all, made the problem worse?

        • Except that I think the climate is comparatively stable, with damping forces that keep it within a fairly narrow range. It’s the AGW crowd that thinks climate is so sensitive that the minor changes humans can make will have catastrophic impact. But I’ll agree that human society is an even more chaotic system.

          • I’m pretty sure the climate is mostly stable as well, even though it’s a chaotic system. If it weren’t, we’d see a lot more wild swings than we do! But if the system were as unstable as climate alarmists would have us believe, trying to control it by manipulating another highly chaotic system seems to be the height of foolishness.

          • Now that I’ve re-read my comment, I see that you mistook a “you” that I meant to be a generic “you” to mean “you” specifically — which is exactly what it sounded like to me, when I re-read it.

            Sigh. The Curse of the Ambiguous Pronoun strikes again!

  12. But still, science is the best solution we have …

    It ought be noted that, in general, the problems we have with using science have nothing to do with using science. Science has not failed when scientists falsify data, stack peer review processes or misinterpret experimental results; people’s application of science has failed. Further, when people employ science for purposes outside the realm of science (science cannot explain the “why” of something, merely the “how” of it) science has not failed, it is merely merely our application that has failed.

    • If I had refreshed, my 12:23 reply to Be Swift, Be Precise would have gone here. 🙂

    • My father, who taught History of Science, always said that it isn’t that science answers questions better than theology, but what questions people want answered.

      Of course, part of the problem these days is theology masquerading as science.

      • I would quibble with your father only to the extent of saying “that science answers questions better than theology” mainly because the questions addressed by science are questions capable of being answered in this world. I do not doubt that Mr. Chesterton has some wonderful pithy aphorism illuminating this, but delving into Chesterton quotes is a time sink for which I lack leisure.

  13. BTW: I object to the title of this piece. We are not being troubled by “a” precious narrative. No, the crises of our times result from the precioussssss narrative. The precioussssss must be protected, the precioussssss will keep us safe, the precioussssss will keep us happy f only we stop the bad peoples, the nassssssty people who try to shine destructive light upon the precioussssss.

  14. > RoundUp causes cancer?

    Even if it was true, should I care? I don’t bathe in the stuff.

    At least it’s not like *this* horrifying carcinogen: http://www.atmos.umd.edu/~russ/MSDS/sand.htm

    • If you are not a plant, why worry? As you say, don’t bathe in it and don’t drink it.

      • Well, and try not to stand downwind when you spray it. This is the biggest problem – getting it all over you (or breathing it in) because the wind shifts.

        I’ve taken to wearing a mask of some kind and long sleeves when spraying anything about (herbicide, pesticide, fertilizer) just so I don’t “bathe in it”.

        Not because I think RoundUp causes cancer. But because I doubt any of those things, in any quantity, in my lungs, mouth, eyes or nose, or all over my skin, is a good thing. Especially the ones intended to kill stuff.

        • This reminds me of my long ago observation of the perils of smoking cigarettes, “Who would imagine that there might be some harmful effects from inhaling incandescent gasses?”

  15. Had to go back over half a decade, but I found this article in the Huffington Post of all places. No idea how it got past their progressive editorial and censorship staff. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/natasha-dern/reality-illusion_b_847079.html

    • Simply because a piece appeared in the Huffington Post does not mean it is utter nonsense. It does place a heavy burden of proof, increasingly so as we approach the present period i which their ideology has approached epistemological closure.

  16. I bought a can opf potato stix the other day with a sticker on it saying it may contain acrylamides and those have been found by the state of CA to cause cancer…

    While yes, that is true,, i’d have to eat those all day every day to get enough acrylamides to cause cancer.

    • And, as we found out in the 80s</strong anything in sufficient quantity will give you cancer. If you live long enough, something will build up enough toxicity in your body to give you cancer. Researchers do themselves no favors – if they want to have credibility, that is – when they pump mice full of a chemical then claim that chemical is carcinogenic.

      • I remember a joke from that time that scientists had found the ultimate cause of cancer and it was…lab rats.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          The State of California is known to the State of California to be carcinogenic. Murder two communists a day in order to minimize your risk of developing cancer.

        • and there was a story where heart disease was being transmitted in the glue on stamps and envelopes…

      • There’s a reason literally everywhere you go in California you see signs warning of the presence of compounds known to the state of California to cause cancer.

        • Where I work we call it the California warning and have observed that it’s on nearly every product we carry and it’s only a matter of time before it shows up on the bottled water.

    • Prop 65 is ridiculous law. While there are places in California that are downright toxic (19th-century mining techniques are not exactly kind to the land, and we won’t even get into the danger of the state rock), so much is covered by this law that the signal-to-noise ratio becomes overwhelmingly static.

      • In Utah we have a charity store called Deseret Industries, and among other things, they sell used furniture. One day several years ago I walked in and saw these yellow tags pinned on every bit of furniture with upholstery, saying essentially that “This is made of Unknown material”.

        I’m not sure if this is the store’s policy to satisfy California (I think they have stores in California, and sometimes transfer things from one store to another), or if it’s now a Federal requirement, but I nonetheless can’t stand the stupidity of it all.

  17. A good chunk of people simply see science as religion or magic. Everything that should be known just comes via pronouncement of their high priests. The actual methods used are just black magic. I remember a bunch of people complaining when Rumsfeld spoke of known unknowns, saying how that was so stupid. That was my day one class for design of experiments

  18. Rich Rostrom

    “a multitude of stories spring, like Zeus’ children, from the forehead of one journalist…”

    Only one of Zeus’ children “sprang from his forehead”: Athena.